The term subscription can have different meanings for different people. Some follow the confessions "in so far as" they are scriptural. This means that they accept the parts that they believe handle scripture accurately but take exception to those parts that they do not. Others subscribe to confessions "because" they believe they handle scripture accurately. When a contradiction arises between the man and the confession, the first assumption is that the confession is correct rather than assuming that the confession needs to be brought in to line with the individual's personal convictions. Within the "because" definition is the idea of subscribing to the system of the confession, those such as Charles Hodge hold to a system subscription "which allows exceptions and even expects them, but these exceptions cannot contradict the reformed faith as understood historically in the plain historical sense." Each member of the Confessional Collective subscribes to their confession "because" they believe it is scriptural.
Why so many confessions?
Each confession is a unique expression of the reformed faith. While we hold Scripture alone as our final authority, the confessions "[are] not the very voice of Divine Truth, but the echo of that Truth from souls that have heard its utterance, felt its power, and are answering to its call.” (W. Hetherington) C.S. Lewis uses the imagery of a hallway with many doors. The hallway includes the essentials of Christian faith while the doorways are more specific creeds and confessions. Though there are a variety of distinctives within each confession, we can work together because we have the same goals of consistent theological frameworks to which we can be held accountable.
The 39 Articles of Religion were the result of the revising and reforming of several previous documents and were completed in 1571. The document was written to clarify points of contention between the Catholic church and other reformers. The 39 Articles are the doctrinal statement of the church of England.
Three Forms of Unity
The Three Forms of Unity is the collective name for the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism. These are the confessions that most reformed churches subscribe to. In 1618 and 1619, the Synod of Dort convened and settled on the Canons of Dort to clarify 5 major points of faith. The Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession were already in common use among the Dutch at the time and were added to the Canons of Dort to complete the 3 Forms.
The Westminster Confession of Faith was drawn up by the 1646 Westminster Assembly over a period of five years. It is the confession to which Presbyterians and many other reformed churches subscribe. The confession was written to be a fully formed statement of theology and is therefore quite extensive in its scope and detail. This is one of the most well known of the historic, reformed statements of faith and has been used by the church of England, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians throughout the years.
Book of Concord
The Book of Concord contains documents which Christians from the fourth to the 16th century A.D. explained what they believed and taught on the basis of the Holy Scriptures. It includes, first, the three creeds which originated in the ancient church, the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. It contains, secondly, the Reformation writings known as the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Luther's Small and Large Catechisms, and the Formula of Concord.
Second Baptist Confession (1689)
The first Baptist Confession was written in 1644 and was one of the earliest reformed confessions. After the Westminster confession was written in 1646, it became clear that the Calvinistic Baptists needed a more extensive confession, giving rise to the 1689 Baptist Confessions, also called the Second London Baptist Confession. This confession is used by many reformed Baptist denominations. It has greatly been influenced by the Westminster confession of faith with major changes to baptism. The fact that much is shared between the Confessions allows for unity, rather than division, while allowing for distinctive within different denominations.
New City Catechism
It was once a normal practice to develop in-depth confessions and catechisms that were reflective of the common errors and heresies of the surrounding culture. That is exactly what the New City catechism is. It harmonizes with the ancient catechisms such as the Heidelberg and Westminster and holds firmly to biblical truth, but it uses modern language and emphasizes points of contention in a post-modern context. This is an excellent example of a contemporary catechism and we hope that you will read through it and consider how it may be helpful for your churches and families.